After a stormy cold first week of 2021 our Stenella finally set out with a small group of guests this afternoon. As we left the marina our spotter called and guided our zodiac to a small, concentrated group of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). The abundance of these cheeky dolphins is largely associated with the summer months, a seasonality that may be based on availability of their favourite prey, Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). This has lead us to refer to them as our “summer dolphins” which made this particular encounter with the snowy peaks of the Pico Ruivo as a backdrop feel wonderful in the most bizarre way. Encounters with smaller groups of this species during the winter are becoming more frequent and these have even led scientists to assume that there may well be a resident group of spotted dolphins remaining in the islands waters all year round.
A species that can be expected at this time of the year is the Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). The occurrence of these colourful and elegant dolphins can largely be related to the availability of their prey and today it seemed like Halfbeaks (Belone belone) were on the menu. Like most dolphins, common dolphins perform coordinated hunts on their prey, herding their prey as a team near the surface before catapulting the fish out of the water air as they leap high into the air.
Today, however, one common dolphin proved that you don’t necessarily require teamwork to secure a meal. We watched in awe as the dolphin circled around its prey before darting through the school of fish and grabbing its prey. Although it is fairly uncommon to observe dolphins hunting alone, Halfbeak schools tend to be relatively small and can easily be herded by a single dolphin through coordinated and effective strategies. Moreover, the dolphin gets the prize all to itself which definitely makes the effort worthwhile!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
15:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Short-beaked common dolphins